When Reggie McKenzie drafted Khalil Mack with the fifth overall pick of the NFL draft in May, he believed he was getting a very special player.
Now, after rookie mincamp and organized team activities (OTAs), Mack’s new teammates are getting an idea how good he might be.
Longtime pro Donald Penn, who’s projected to start for the Raiders at left tackle this season, has been going against Mack in practice and is convinced Mack is going to have a big rookie year.
“He has a motor that is relentless,” Penn told reporters this week. “As a tackle, you have to stay on him until you hear the whistle or hear the crowd cheer.”
At Buffalo, Mack was an energized 6-foot-3, 261-pound linebacker who roamed sideline to sideline and also put the heat on opposing quarterbacks. What’s impressed Raiders veterans is the wide range of skill sets Mack has.
Safety Charles Woodson recently said Mack’s movements have been impressive.
“I’ve watched him a couple of times come off the edge, and he’s a guy that can bend at the waist, he can get low,” he told Scott Bair of CSN Bay Area. "He can get under tackles if he’s going around the edge. He’s quick enough to where he can get a guy in space coming off the edge. He can make movements in or out and go either way, and he seems to be put together pretty well, so we know he has some strength.”
It’s looking likely that Mack will start at strong side linebacker in the Raiders’ 4-3 defense, with Sio Moore moving to the weak side after playing on the strong side as a rookie last year.
Moore – also a good pass rusher like Mack – was selected to the all-rookie NFL team in 2013 after collecting 49 tackles and 4½ sacks.
With Mack and Moore on the outside, and LaMarr Woodley and Justin Tuck as defensive ends, the Raiders’ pass rush suddenly looks formidable. But the way Mack has looked so far means he could be the difference-maker. If he’s as good as advertised and offensive coordinators have to account for his presence, Moore, Tuck and Woodley will get far less attention.
“This is an impact player,” said Raiders head coach Dennis Allen, after the Raiders drafted Mack. “This guy will have an impact on our football team for the 2014 season, there’s no question about that.”
Penn certainly sees that now. He believes Mack will get a lot of sacks late in a play because of sheer determination combined with his talent.
“Khalil’s a special athlete,” Penn said.